Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Statement by the President Upon Signing the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968.

August 24, 1968

AFTER careful consideration, I have signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968.

In this review, I have weighed the bill's positive and progressive features against its shortcomings, the range of executive actions we might take to ease some of its burdens, and the time yet remaining in this session for Congress to correct its drawbacks.

In many respects, this is the most important highway authorization bill since the start of the interstate program over a decade ago. It authorizes funds to carry the program through 1974, enough to assure the construction of many thousands of miles of roads. These highways can forge new links to more of our cities, serve America's growing transportation needs, and open up new avenues of convenience for millions of citizens.

This measure also deals more effectively and more humanely than any previous measure with a modern dilemma--the problems created by roadbuilding in or through our cities. It shows, in these provisions, more of a concern for our citizens than for concrete. --Families--particularly the poor--who are displaced from their homes by highway projects will receive the assistance they need in moving to other dwellings.

--Authority to acquire new rights-of-way in advance can help assure that highways in the future will be better planned, less costly, and cause the least possible disruption to local residents and businesses.

--Funds to institute innovative measures to improve traffic flows will mean less congestion in city streets.

--A new test program providing fringe parking away from crowded business districts will further improve the movement of traffic.

--Highway planners will be required to consider social and environmental factors in determining the location of urban highways--thus preserving many neighborhoods from the bulldozer and the wrecking ball.

--More effective equal employment opportunity in the highway construction industry will bring jobs to Americans of all races.

Unfortunately, these forward looking provisions do not stand alone in this bill. There are other sections which I believe to be unfortunate, ill-considered, and a setback to the cause of conservation. I urge the Congress to move promptly to correct them. The bill as it now stands will:

--Seriously weaken the pioneering effort to beautify America's highways by depriving that effort of the funds it needs, and by diluting the billboard removal provisions of the present act.

--Remove the protection we have given in the past to many park lands that should be preserved for the families and children of America.

--Extend the interstate system by 1,500 miles without any serious study of the type of major highway program we will need after we complete the present system in 1974.

By far the most objectionable feature in the bill is the requirement that the District of Columbia Government and the Secretary of Transportation construct all interstate routes within the District as soon as possible-with the District required to commence work on four specific projects within 30 days. These provisions are inconsistent with a basic tenet of sound urban development-to permit the local government and the people affected to participate meaningfully in planning their transportation system.

Under the Constitution, the Congress does possess special and unique responsibilities-different from its powers over the 50 States-to legislate for the Nation's Capital. The desire of the Congress to move forward with the construction of a highway system to serve the Washington area is understandable. But it is vitally important that these roads be constructed in accordance with proper planning and engineering concepts and with minimum disruption of the lives of District citizens.

Fortunately, the Congress has called for construction only in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Federal highway law.

If the authority of the executive branch were not so preserved, I would have no choice but to veto this bill as an infringement of basic principles of good government and executive responsibility.

I am advised that under Federal highway law the Secretary of Transportation is required to approve construction only when:

--Funds are available.

--All rights-of-way can be obtained.

--These projects are shown to be appropriate links in a comprehensive transportation plan for the District.

--Other requirements of sound highway construction are met.

I have therefore directed the Secretary of Transportation promptly to convene the representatives of all interested executive agencies to support the Government of the District of Columbia in developing a comprehensive plan for a D.C. highway system. This plan should:

--Promote the rapid movement of traffic in the metropolitan area.

--Protect the people and neighborhoods affected by the new roads.

--Recognize the city's needs for expanded parking facilities.

I have asked the Secretary of Transportation and the mayor of the District of Columbia to make certain that the plan is developed in sufficient time to have portions under contract prior to January 1, 1969.

Earlier this year the Congress directed me to reduce expenditures by $6 billion and obligations by $18 billion. This was not a responsibility I sought. While I appreciate the sense of the Congress--as expressed in this bill--that Federal moneys not be withheld from the highway program, I must still exercise the responsibility to carry out these stringent economy measures.

All Government programs are being scrutinized with care. Highway projects will not be immune from this study and funds will be provided or withheld in accordance with the need to comply with the congressional mandate to cut $6 billion from the Federal budget.

I believe the good in this bill outweighs the bad. I believe that the progressive steps we are taking here will permit us to improve the highway program in urban areas, and make it more responsive to the needs of the people who live there. I hope that the Congress will assist the executive branch in moving further in this direction, and in amending the undesirable features of this bill.

Note: As enacted, the bill (S. 3418) is Public Law 90-495 (82 Stat. 815), approved on August 23, 1968. The statement was released at Austin, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President Upon Signing the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives